(photo credit: )
Last week, the leaders of the G20 major countries met in London and committed themselves to lofty economic ideals. According to the closing Communique:
"We face the greatest challenge to the world economy in modern times; a crisis which â€¦ affects the lives of women, men, and children in every country, and which all countries must join together to resolve," read the closing communique of the meeting.
The G20 pledged to do whatever is necessary to restore confidence, growth and jobs. These measures include a huge concerted fiscal expansion, which apparently will by the end of next year, amount to $5 trillion, raise output by 4 per cent, and accelerate the transition to a green economy.
To help raise the revenues to pay for this effort, the G20 agreed "to take action against non-cooperative jurisdictions, including tax havensâ€¦The era of banking secrecy is over. We note that the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) published a list of countries assessed by the Global Forum against the international standard for exchange of tax information".
The OECD refers to its work over the last decade, partly in conjunction with the United Nations in developing an "agreed standard". This standard requires exchange of information on request in all tax matters for the administration and enforcement of domestic tax law without regard to a domestic tax interest requirement or bank secrecy for tax purposes. It also provides for safeguards to protect the confidentiality of the information exchanged.
The OECD report states explicitly which countries ("jurisdictions") are considered OK and which are not. There are four lists.
1. Jurisdictions that have substantially implemented the internationally agreed tax standard
Argentina, Australia, Barbados, Canada, China (not Hong Kong, Macau), Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, isle of Man, Italy, Japan, Jersey, Korea, Malta, Mauritius, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Seychelles, Slovak Republic, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, UAE, UK, US, US Virgin Islands.
2. Tax havens committed to the internationally agreed tax standard but have not yet substantially implemented it
Andorra, Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Aruba, Bahamas, Bahrain, Belize, Bermuda, BVI, Cayman Islands, Cook Islands, Dominica, Gibraltar, Grenada, Liberia, Liechtenstein, Marshall Islands, Monaco, Montserrat, Nauru, Netherlands Antilles, Nieue, Panama, St. Kitts & Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent & Grenadines, Samoa, San Marino, Turks & Caicos, Vanuatu.
3. Other financial centres committed to the internationally agreed tax standard but have not yet substantially implemented it
Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Chile, Guatemala, Luxembourg, Singapore, Switzerland.
4. Jurisdictions that have not committed to implement the internationally agreed tax standard
Costa Rica, Malaysia (Labuan), Philippines and Uruguay.
Some of the countries on the first list look like tax havens, but they do not offer secrecy according to the OECD. Countries on lists 2 to 4 may soon be forced to enter into information exchange agreements with other countries.
What action will they face if they refuse? That is not yet stated. In the US, a bill proposed by Senator Levin proposes tax payments to and from certain offshore secrecy jurisdictions.
Others have accused the US of double standards because the ownership of companies in states like Delaware, Nevada and Wyoming can be kept confidential.
The US, UK and Australia and elsewhere, have recently started inquiries against some financial institutions from such countries and against some of their clients, but with limited success so far.
What about Israel? Israel is absent from all the above lists and is in the process of joining the OECD. Israel offers attractive tax incentives for approved enterprises, privileged enterprises, foreign resident settlor trusts and foreign resident beneficiary trusts among others.
As always, consult experienced professional advisers in each country at an early stage in specific cases.
Leon Harris is an international tax specialist.